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Organic Yet Organized

One of the great challenges of citizen engagement is balancing the drive to get something done with the need to inspire maximum participation.  Fortunately, by combining traditional action research with principles from the Art of Hosting, facilitators can accommodate many citizen interests while producing tangible results.  Take a look at the following process developed by CCR: Community-Hosted Action Research.

There are three keys to the process:

  • The Calling.  Participants co-create and remain explicitly committed to a core “calling” for the work. The calling is general enough for everyone to buy-into, but specific enough to be inspiring.  An example would be “We are called to rebuild Cincinnati’s business districts across the city so that all citizens have access to walkable neighborhood services.”
  • Passions Become Priorities.  Rather than debate and identify “our three top priorities” in an isolated conference room, possible paths of action are collectively brainstormed and discussed, and then undertaken in the real world by whoever is inspired to do so. In other words, people’s passions become the priorities of the group.   This allows everyone to make a meaningful contribution. Importantly, action teams are encouraged to:
    1. Experiment with small, short-term steps to learn about and redesign their prototype over time rather than take the risk of designing a whole program without real-world insight (e.g. Obamacare);
    2. Continue to engage new people in the implementation/experimentation process–thus expanding participation even after work has started.
  • Co-Learning.  After a pre-determined period of time, action teams reconvene to report on their progress, insights and challenges.  The whole group then asks itself, “What have we learned from our collective efforts about the calling and how to achieve it?” Through small group dialog, feedback and harvesting, the whole group provides learning and data for the action teams to tweak their projects for a second experimental iteration.

When combined with proper relationship building and participative facilitation techniques, the commitment to the calling will hold a group together over time.  This gives the passion-driven projects a chance to organically evolve toward consensus on the most sustainable and effective projects.  In the end, most everyone will “buy-into” the final answer because they will have real-world experience around which to base their collective deliberation.

With so much talent and passion in our communities, why limit participation with top-down priorities when action research and co-learning will ultimately create better programs with greater participation?

Norwood Community Coalition Tackles Drug Abuse

Almost a year ago, Deb Robison, Director of Family and Student Service for Norwood Schools, asked CCR to help build a community coalition to combat drug and alcohol abuse.  Deb understood that though professionals needed to better integrate their services, the real progress would happen when the community became engaged in the work. 

CCR worked with the steering committee to design and facilitate two highly participative community summits attended by teens, parents, community organizations, police leaders, school board members, administrators, service providers and other concerned community members.  Those summits produced four community focus areas:

1.      Developing and promoting Norwood-based resources;

2.      Empowering the youth voice;

3.      Reclaiming public spaces through youth activities;

4.      Focusing services on prevention and education.

A key step forward was the youth-led summit, where student facilitators helped  9th graders brainstorm ideas for school, home and community that would help young people remain drug free.  They voted on their “Big Idea” and have begun work to implement that idea.  Their big idea is to create an in-school camp for ninth graders to give them the skills to remain drug free.  The Coalition for Drug Free Greater Cincinnati (CDFGC) awarded a grant to implement the students “Big Idea”, as well as another grant to implement other strategies derived from the summits.  

The coalition has also:

·         Developed and distributed a Norwood Resource Guide;

·         Developed and distributed a youth-created stay-drug-free magnet;

·         Held six Casual Conversations which were each attended by 10-16 local community members;

·         Participated in National Night Out;

·         Participated in several trainings and workshops;

·         Sent a team of people to the CDFGC Coalition Academy;

·         Trained several clergy with the Faith Based Toolkit;

·         Authored several articles for the local paper, the Norwood Star;

·         Helped pass the social host ordinance in Norwood;

·         Built a partnership with the schools and Health Department to pilot SBIRT screenings in grades 6-9.

What is actually most exciting, other than the work that is being accomplished, is the sense of connection that is developing among the steering committee and the community at large. It is exciting to see various committee members leading specific projects for the coalition, or volunteering for projects specific to their interests yet with the support of the whole group.  Not everyone attends every function of the coalition—and that is ok because each person on the steering committee has a valuable role. 

The community at large is also becoming more engaged in the work as well.  It seems like we have created the space for each person (steering committee or community member) to bring their gifts to the table to be used on behalf of reducing drug and alcohol abuse in Norwood.  It is my opinion that we have such a great foundation because of the work with did with CCR early in the process.  It allowed us to think differently about how we would approach the work and honor each other’s talents.  To be ok with some projects rising to the surface and others falling away if no one was interested in leading them.  CCR helped us to be organic and organized at the same time.

By Deb Robison

Facilitation Training for Public Leaders

The Facilitation Leadership Paradigm

Sustained organizational change happens through the ongoing collaboration of leadership and their constituents.  But facilitating such collaboration is a skill few leaders possess; most are content experts who have risen to management positions (e.g. teachers becoming principals).  CCR’s facilitation leadership training helps public-facing professionals engage staff and community stakeholders in processes that drive change while building the culture of collaboration essential to sustain it.

Performance Training

While traditional training provides isolated learning that is seen as the end product, CCR’s performance training helps participants transfer learning directly to their work.  Participants first identify their performance needs and the real challenges through which learning can be applied and measured.  Over time, these applications animate the structured training, personalized coaching, and peer-to-peer debriefing that form the backbone of the learning process.  Most importantly, by collaborating to deliver the training, leaders learn to empower team-driven change, participants become responsible for their own improvement, and both begin to model the culture necessary for any change.

Training as Culture Change A collaborative culture is the foundation of sustained organizational learning and change.  CCR’s facilitation leadership training can help build that culture by bringing leaders and their constituents together to collaboratively:

  1. Implement a pre-determined, organization-wide change initiative;
  2. Create a new, organization-wide effort;
  3. Learn facilitation skills that participants apply to their specific unit-level challenges.

Regardless of the context, participants will learn and experience the art and science of working together—leadership skills that can be applied to any collective effort. 

Process Outline

Training design

  1. Interview team members to map team culture, organizational obstacles, and performance baselines;
  2. Form a diverse participant “design team” to review baselines and build training possibilities;
  3. Facilitate whole-team meetings to adjust training outputs/outcomes and build team ownership;
  4. Address and heal team culture as needed before beginning structured training modules;­­­­­­­­

Iterative learning

  1. Conduct structured training—usually quarterly—to convey key principles and frame coaching process;
  2. Ongoing coaching of participants to apply training principles to real-time meeting design and facilitation;
  3. Facilitate a community-of-practice to inspire co-learning, review training program, and sustain change.

Quarterly Training Modules

  1. The facilitation leadership paradigm; human skills identification and development
  2. Meeting preparation one: the design team, deep purposes, harvest and action planning
  3. Meeting preparation two: agenda planning—time, space, engagement, group-reflection
  4. Stand-up skills: managing individual emotions, group dynamics, and creative content

Contact to discuss how facilitation leadership can immediately impact your work.  Using our action learning model, we will tailor your training to help you achieve a specific goal or problem.

CCR Trains Lakota Principals in Collaborative Meeting Facilitation

With the success of the community conversation process (click here for more details), Lakota Local Schools superintendent Dr. Karen Mantia has asked CCR to train their principals in collaborative meeting facilitation.

For ten years, CCR executive director Jeffrey Stec has facilitated community dialog, lead non-profit strategic planning, and traveled the country teaching continuing legal education courses in “collaborative negotiation”, which marries theory from communication psychology to group facilitation skills. By combining these experiences, CCR offers an integrated facilitation model for building teams, inspiring ideas, and reaching consensus–exactly what is necessary to re-invigorate staff or community meetings.  And because people commit to what they co-create, individuals hold themselves accountable for actions planned during the process.

With two of four three-hour training sessions complete, reviews from from participants and sponsors alike have been fantastic.  Most stress how the training is real-world ready — any meeting, whether public or private, can benefit from increased participation, empathy, and creativity — and all see the organizational benefit that collaborative processes bring to meetings.

As the training moves forward and evolves to include real-time coaching during public engagement, we will see how principals using collaborative meeting facilitation can help change the tone of the community conversation around education.

Citizens’ Budget Committee Officially Moves Forward

As part of its ongoing effort to include citizens in the budget process, the City of Cincinnati is working with CCR to build a citizens’ budget committee, a team of administrators and citizens who will explore how citizens can best partner with City leadership on budget issues.
Once fully formed, the committee of 18-24 people will conduct experiments in engaging the broader community with all of government (from City Council to department directors to street-level workers) on various issues. These experiments will provide experience and data that will help the City design a formal citizen engagement process for setting the 2015/16 biennial budget. (Of course, the Priority Based Budgeting process already forms a plank in the City’s engagement platform.)
Indeed, research for the committee has already begun: CCR helped the City facilitate two update and feedback sessions on Priority Based Budgeting (one in October and at again at the recent Neighborhood Summit). There we received deep citizen feedback to the question “Where does citizen engagement on budgeting go from here?”.  This information will be used as the launching pad for initial discussions and experiments.

If you are interested in participating, please  While committee membership is limited, everyone will be able to participate in committee activities.

Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Summit

Even when you are as big as Children’s Hospital, public health initiatives cannot succeed without broad community support and action.  

Wisely, Max Warner, Program Manager of the Comprehensive Children’s Injury Center, knew that a hospital facilitated community summit would send the wrong message–that the big institution was coming to save your community’s children from preventable injuries in households and on the streets.  While Max obviously believes the hospital should play a role, he sees the resources offered by Children’s as tools to be utilized BY communities and citizens, not projects to be done TO them.

CCR helped Max design and facilitate a summit that allowed citizens to voice their priorities, but also put the responsibility on citizens to utilize what Children’s was offering–information, resources, and connections to help them build safe communities.  For those concerned with home safety,  Children’s can offer a “home safety day” kit that can be brought to any community.  For those worried about kids on bikes, free helmets and classes are available. But both are available only if the community steps up and makes it happen.

The self-organizing meeting design CCR facilitated has led to a second summit, 6 action teams, and a set of leaders ready to build this movement by keeping communities and issues interconnected for group learning and relationship building, the keys to long-term community capacity.

Norwood Drug/Alcohol Abuse Coalition

With so much effort being poured into drug and alcohol abuse issues, professionals and community members alike are wondering why there is still such a problem.  Their solution:  work across professional and community boundaries to figure out what we can do together that we can’t do alone?

The first step was for Deb Robison, a Norwood Schools social worker, to build relationships with other key community stakeholders:  the police, the health department, other professionals and several churches.  With a core group of about 10 committed to collaboration–especially with the community–they set to work on designing a community summit that would energize community partnerships to combat drug and alcohol abuse.

At that point Deb contacted CCR, who helped them design and facilitate a powerful meeting.  First off, the information content focused on surprise and stories–and less of the traditional data about the problem we all know so well.  Second, we broke into 8 groups of 8-9 diverse people to “map” on story boards the current efforts at combating abuse in Norwood.  The goal was to see “what is” so that the gaps–and possible partnerships–would become obvious.

But before people went to work on dissecting the map and making suggestions, we conducted an interactive fishbowl with teens in recovery from abuse.  Their heart-breaking stories shed light on how the community might complement its current efforts with more peer-to-peer models of teen empowerment and more effort into identifying problem parents before they trigger drug abuse in their own children.

With that emotional and tactical grounding, the small groups did in fact identify necessary shifts and synergies that would help them accomplish more together than just the sum total of their individual efforts.  Putting more effort into prevention, and providing more community-based connections for both children and adults, were identified as key strategies.  From here, the group will keep engaging more constituents around those topics that participants identify as critical–with a central steering committee organized to support these myriad efforts.

What Can Citizens Do for You? An Invitation to City Managers

Citizens are noisy complainers crashing budget hearings with vociferous opinions without context and merit.   They demand that government keep the programs important to them, but not programs used by others.  What an uninformed and self-centered lot!

Or are they?  Maybe citizens are simply playing the hand they are dealt—packing two minutes of testimony with reactions to a budget developed after months of analysis and closed-door discussions by government leaders.  Wouldn’t you show some signs of strain under such circumstances?

By engaging citizens much earlier in the budget process, we could dramatically end these late-game anxieties and the leadership backlash that inevitably follows.  Management experts have found that employees “own” solutions for problems they help identify and solve; why not use a similar model with citizens?  Rather than presenting citizens with a budget solution, we could offer budget data—and let citizens identify the problem for themselves.

Once clear about the problem, citizens usually offer a wealth of possible solutions.  And rather than reject them out of hand due to obvious flaws, leaders could systematically listen to citizens, compile the options, and return with a comprehensive analysis—pros and cons, but no final judgment of—the major ideas.  Once again, leadership would provide the data upon which decisions can be made by citizens.

By framing the role of government leadership as citizen-solution facilitation, we invert the process, put citizens in charge, and let them struggle with the decisions government deals with every day.  Applying this model to day-to-day decisions would be a waste of time, but as budget pressures lead to major cuts in service, the facilitation-leadership paradigm offers many benefits:

  • Citizens empathize with leadership—they confront the tough decisions you deal with every day, every year, and finally understand that you can’t just _______ and solve the problem;
  • Citizens are forced to take responsibility for budget decisions—no more blaming government leaders for the mess we are in, they have to step up;
  • Creative options emerge—responsible citizens, empowered to solve problems, are motivated to keep the programs they want and will find ways to compromise that leadership might not;
  • Leadership has increased support to make tough decisions—citizens identified, debated, and chose the solution, so they are more likely to “buy into it”;
  • Citizen volunteerism increases—if we look at “resources” more broadly, and enough time is given, citizens are more likely to offer their own time and energy in order to maintain the benefits of government service.

In the end, despite our best efforts to build citizen-based solutions, leadership will still need to make a decision on many issues.  But the process of listening to citizens frame problems and create options will always generate good will toward government leaders.  If the process is done right (especially lots of small group dialog), this process puts an empathetic face on government:  we are here to listen, understand, and help you work through this challenge.  Over time the citizen-government relationship deepens, trust builds, and collaboration becomes part of the community’s culture.  As anyone with teenage children has found, a good working partnership is tough to build, but pays dividends over a lifetime.

Lakota Reaches Out

I read with great interest how school superintendents are reaching out to their constituents.  This is a great trend, but structuring these “informal” conversations is not easy.  I have designed and facilitated the process with Lakota Schools, and we have spent much time with a core team of leaders recruiting community “hosts”, designing the conversations to be productive despite the informality, and figuring out what to do with the information we systematically collect.  Without such thoughtfulness and professional facilitation, these conversations can quickly become complaint sessions, get caught in tangential issues or worse, go nowhere.  Because citizens feel burned when given lip service, or if they can’t see how their input made a difference, these conversations must become part of a comprehensive engagement process that leads to an ongoing partnership between citizens and the school district.

The deeper question that these efforts seek to address is whether there is still a public for public schools.  Beyond the standard quid pro quo of levy campaigns—I pay for good schools so my property values stay high—most non-parents don’t have a clear reason for supporting public education.  Long ago, Americans pioneered public education so citizens were educated enough to govern our fledgling democracy.  The Kettering Foundation has found that Americans generally don’t see how schools serve a larger public purpose—primarily because most people, especially those in well-off suburbs, don’t have a sense of what they are working toward as a community.  Dr. David Mathews, CEO of the Kettering Foundation, argues that public schools will struggle for support until communities find a sense of collective purpose.

Public schools, however, can play a leading role in helping communities find common purpose.  Because people are educated in many ways outside of school—the distinction between “schooling” and “education”—school districts can engage the community in defining the role of community in educating not only children, but the whole community.  By convening churches, businesses, and non-profits around the idea of “community education”, school districts not only identify how the community can complement traditional schooling, but they begin to create a collective identity and purpose in traditionally fragmented communities.

By forging a true, ongoing, educational partnership between community and schools, these superintendents might inspire communities to identify and work collaboratively toward true public purposes, answering a question so rarely asked in America today:  What are we trying to accomplish by living together in this community?

Lakota Schools Community Conversation

What type of education do our children need to succeed in the 21st century?  That is the question being posed to West Chester and Liberty township  community members in a broad effort to engage the community in defining the future of local education.

After years of toxic deliberation over school levies, the new superintendent, Dr. Karen Mantia, realized that a new conversation was needed to change the relationship between the community and the district.  So rather than fight about “how” to deliver the best education (i.e. how much money to spend), the district began working with CCR to build a long-term partnership with the community to define “what” kids need to succeed in the 21st Century.  This is the classic strategic planning approach, but applied to the far-messier realm of community-government dialog.

The first challenge was identifying the “publics” that need to be engaged.  How would we find them?  What was the invitation?    First we developed a community-mosaic so we could literally picture the great diversity in this community of 100,000.  Then we identified network leaders who were invited to “host” a community conversation with their constituents.  From low-income housing communities to the Chamber of Commerce, political groups and minority networks, we have stretched to find as many voices as possible.  Most conversations were held in the homes of community members, though businesses, churches, and non-profits have also stepped up.  Community members have currently hosted over 40 conversations with an average attendance of 23–the power of the personal invitation at work.

Importantly, these conversations were structured for both relationship building and content feedback using small group dialog and questions tailored to elicit what people value most, not just their complaints.  By asking attendees to tell a personal story about the challenges confronting education, we tapped the communities deepest fears around the future.  By asking for future “headlines” declaring success in retooling education, we found goals that would inspire, not just a checklist.

Forty conversations and 800 voices later, we were astounded to find that despite vast differences in background (one session was attended by people from over a dozen countries), political bias, or socio-economic status, community  members agree on at least 80% of what the future of education should look like:

  • Grow the whole child and help them find their unique path;
  • Teach the skills necessary to apply their education to the real world (communication, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking);
  • Provide hands-on, experiential opportunities;
  • Connect kids to the community and the community to the schools.

This information now forms the basis of a strategic planning process that will define “how” to achieve these goals.  Once complete, the next step is to engage the community (through a set of citizen stewards) in implementing the plan, both within the school and in the broader community (click here to read about the critical but complementary distinction between “schooling” and “community education”).

Lakota is cutting a  pioneering path to bring public education back to the people–and it’s working.  One community member who has moved her children out of the district said, “If I can be part of a movement like this, I will bring my children back to Lakota.”  It really does show that people are yearning for communal efforts in a time of deep social separation–and that the public schools can lead the way to greater community involvement in public life.